Many Happy Returns (of the day)

I ran across this saying for the first time in high school, in a book written by an English author. It’s not something I say out loud very often, but I write it in birthday cards all the time.

Many happy returns – the interest gained by a life well lived. I don’t think it’s meant to be an economic saying (may you earn a lot of interest from your stock portfolio) as much as a hope that you will be aware of the wonderful things your life offers you. May you notice the love of your friends and family; may you appreciate the sight of woodpeckers on the suet feeder and cardinals perched upon snowy  branches. May you take the time to honor what this universe offers you – the deepening of your spirit through the easy and difficult circumstances that greet you each day.

May you know that you are a delight to God – and that the entire universe was changed because you came into being.

Many Happy Returns – for the day of your birth and every other day!

Happy Birthday, Larry Ganem, wherever you are…

Common Expressions…

They are everywhere – on mugs and posters, in novels, and spoken by morning show hosts. These common expressions pepper our conversations. We hand them down to our children and toss them back and forth with neighbors and strangers alike. Some are almost universally understood, others only known within a particular region. I thought it might be fun to give them a second look…

Bang A Uey 

It’s New Englandese (specifically, Boston area) for make a U-turn, turn around. I use it on occasion and hear others use it every so often – but only in New England or from New Englanders who’ve moved elsewhere. It even showed up in the GPS vocabulary when the TomTom “Boston Driver” voice was activated. It’s what I have to do when I’m heading in the opposite direction from where I need to go.

Bang a Uey. Turn around. I can’t and won’t do this unless I know and admit that I’m going in exactly the wrong direction. To get where I want to be, I have to do an about-face, turn the wheel and put the destination in front of the dashboard rather than in the rearview mirror. There’s no easier way to make the necessary change of direction.

When I have to do this in the larger sense, bang a Uey can be said in just one word: repent.

Endings and Beginnings…

Some look at birthdays and the turning of one calendar year into another as significant – bringing new realities and possibilities into being, taking stock of what was to begin the journey into what will be. Others see such days as much like any other – just randomly assigned holidays with no intrinsic value beyond what our imaginations or superstitions assign to them. In my almost fifty-five years on this planet, I’ve gone back and forth between the two. The older I get, the more I believe it doesn’t really matter which side I land on: what matters is the reasoning behind it and the actions that spring out of it.

Birthdays and New Year as significant: These days encourage reflection and can serve to spur me into action because I can’t hide in my daily unthinking routine. And there’s usually cake…

Birthdays and New Year as not intrinsically more significant than any other day: Every day is a new beginning, an opportunity to reflect on life and see in my daily activities the grace of God and the miracle of this life.

Whatever side I land on in 2019, I hope to waken each day with the sure knowledge and deep appreciation for this fragile, imperfect, holy life I’ve been given; I hope to waken each day with the sure knowledge and deep appreciation for the fragile, imperfect, holy lives of everyone I encounter. May I find enough love and wisdom to live this out in 2019.

Happy New Year! Amen.

Getting It for Christmas

Readings: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:8-20

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” Luke 2:15 (The Message).
The Incarnation, or what C.S. Lewis calls “the Grand Miracle”, is here with us now. This gets talked about often, but I’m still flabbergasted that God chose a pretty poor and certainly non-royal family, a cave or manger, a bunch of shepherds—probably the lowest paid job of the day, as some of the props for Act I of our salvation story in the New Testament. Sometimes I wonder what Act II was like for the shepherds—if I’d seen such a revelation in the heavens could I just go on with those sheep? And why didn’t God send the angels to Herod or Caiaphas so that there might be greater acceptance and less doubt? Well of course the doubt would have still been there years later and the threat Jesus was to the establishment would have as well—they probably wouldn’t “get it” anyway. Sometimes I wonder if I get it.
My Christmas prayer today is that, after all the celebration, food, gifts, angst over whether people like the gifts,etc., we might take a moment to “get it”—the Word made flesh has just “moved into the neighborhood”—”let’s see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.”
Offered by Bill Albritton, child of God and loving presence in this world.

Fear and Wonder

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

In C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, Lucy asks Mr. Beaver if Aslan, the Christ figure of the series, is safe.  Mr. Beaver’s response: “Safe: Of course, he isn’t safe, but he’s good.”   

In Psalm 96, we find a pattern of Fear and Wonder.  In the (NIV) version of the Bible are verses like, “For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” (V. 4) and “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” Does this reveal that God isn’t safe, but he is good? When the shepherds found Jesus in the manger, it must have been with amazement that this infant was the Messiah-even God himself. 

Sometimes we are pretty good at declaring God’s glory and greatness in worship services.  We sing songs and hymns of praise. We hear from the pulpit sermons on Gods’ grace. We celebrate God’s wonderful works together. Recently Christians have experienced violence and shootings in their churches. Our worship can take us to places that are not safe.  Does this reveal that God isn’t safe, but he is good?

This psalm helps me to remember that we are not only to declare God’s glory among those whom we worship with, those who know God, but also among those who do not. Our worship may take us to places that are not safe, places that are risky. I believe God is safe and He is good, even in these such places.  He gave us the gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ, so we can know we are his beloved, held in the palm of his hand throughout life’s journey and into eternity.

Because of God’s faithfulness Love came down at Christmas into our world. God loves us so completely that He became flesh. May we never to lose sight of God’s glory.  May we be unhesitating in proclaiming God’s wonders. And may God, indeed, be glorified in our words, our deeds, our being.

Take time to read Psalm 96.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Today’s meditation and image offered by Donna Eby, photographer, pray-er, seeker of the Christ Child.

Tipping the Scales

Readings: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55; Hebrews 10:5-10

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty. 

He has helped his servant Israel, 

in remembrance of his mercy…

Luke 1:51-54, NRSV

Offered by Colin Fredrickson, artist, college student, child of God. This image was originally posted for Advent, 2015, and created when Colin was a high school student.

Loving Mother

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7; Isaiah 66:7-11; Luke 13:31-35

Before she was in labor she gave birth;

before her pain came upon her she delivered a son.

Who has heard of such a thing?

Who has seen such things?

Shall a land be born in one day?

Shall a nation be delivered in one moment?

Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children.

Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord;

shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God.

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her;

rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her –

that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast;

that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.

Isaiah 66:7-11 NRSV

New life doesn’t survive on its own very long: a mother’s milk nourishes the newborn body, a mother’s and father’s loving gaze and comforting embrace nourish the heart, mind, and soul. Without this love and devotion, new life withers and does not grow.

Sometimes I forget that the same is true of the life-giving spark that is born in the soul, the image-of-God in everyone. That spark is nurtured by the people we love and the faith traditions that sustain them. I am in debt to every person who embraced my spiritual growth and fostered it.

Sometimes, I forget that faiths are also born – gifts of the loving God who created everything and sustains every breath. My own faith of manger and cross was born to the faithful children of Yahweh. It is the faith of Israel, the heritage of Abraham and Sarah, Deborah, Jacob, Mary, and Joseph that embraced and fed it. I am an ungrateful and unwise child, indeed, if I don’t see in this a mother’s love and the steadying hand of God. 

Nat King Cole, Christmas for Kids from One to Ninety-two, (recorded at Capitol Studios, Hollywood, CA), compilation [Hollywood, CA: Capitol Records, 2000]

Keeping Company, Losing Possessions

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7; Isaiah 42:10-18; Hebrews 10:32-39

But you recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. Hebrews 10: 32-33 NRSV

Friends of mine spent some days traveling Scotland by train. On a three hour stop in a small town, a grubby, smelly, homeless man greeted them. After a few minutes of conversation, my friends took the man to lunch with them at a local pub. For the hour they spent with him, they were very aware of the stares and the shaking heads – and of the pungent disruption they were causing at the restaurant. When they were done with lunch and back at the train station, the man held out his hand in thanks; reluctantly, they shook it, then boarded their train, glad to be on their way.

A gentleman who’d seen their leave-taking came over once the train left the station. “How did it feel to shake the hand of Jesus?” he asked.

For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your own possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. Hebrews 10:34-35  NRSV

Ten years ago, floodlights and sirens disturbed a snowy February night. A friend’s house, just a few hundred feet away from my own, went up in flames. Everything they owned went with it. A few days after the blaze, my friend remarked, “I thought I’d miss my things a lot more than I do. There’s a wonderful freedom to it. I hope I don’t forget this when the house is restored.”

The company we keep can give us a glimpse of God, if we keep our eyes open.

The possessions we lose can give us a glimpse of eternal happiness, if we keep our hearts open.

Simple Gifts, Liz Story, recorded at Prescott, AZ: Luna Recording Studio, 1996 The Carols of Christmas: A Windham Hill Collection, Windham Hill Records, 1996

Words By Heart

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:10-18

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:31-34  NRSV

An unexpectedly large crowd showed up for the Parkway Orchestra’s holiday concert a couple weeks back, and my husband and I got the last program booklet. It was filled with the usual ads, musician names, and the order of music to be performed. It also had two pages of Christmas carol lyrics for the singalong. When it came time to sing, I let my husband keep the program – I’ve sung the songs so many times over the decades that I knew the words by heart. No need to look at a piece of paper for something written in my heart and mind.

I’ve spent just as many decades reading scripture and going to church as I have singing Jingle Bells and Good King Wenceslas. I’ve committed to memory prayers and creeds, theological points and counterpoints, and a good number of psalms. I’ve broken faith with most of the commandments at some point or other, if not in the literal sense at least within the confines of my heart and imagination – this, in spite of God’s faithfulness to me. So what needs to be written on my heart for me to live the holy life God offers to me every day? I can’t say in a definitive sense (I’ve yet to achieve anything close to transfiguration or deification), but here’s my definition-in-progress:

God loves me more than I will ever understand. No matter what happens, I am never lost to God. God loves you more than I will ever understand. No matter what happens, you are never lost to God. You and I will only find complete joy in each other’s company, in the embrace of God….and we are already there, we just haven’t learned it by heart yet.

If this law of love is written on my heart, there’s no one and nothing I won’t know as God’s own beloved. And my beloved, too.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.